How to eradicate fake makeup trade: Environmental group makes its case

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

How to eradicate fake makeup trade: Environmental group makes its case
As the makeup black market continues to thrive in the Philippines, the EcoWaste Coalition believes that the only way to tackle the problem is with hard ball methods such as stricter border control, tougher sanctions and punishments that match the crime.

The pervasiveness of the problem is one of the biggest challenges to fighting the war on fake, often toxic makeup and skin care.

Just this week, the EcoWaste Coalition found a slew of cosmetic products that contained high levels of lead, mercury, arsenic and other impurities.

While there are no official statistics, it is not hard to see the range and magnitude of problem, said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner of the Philippines-based non-profit environmental group.

He told Cosmetics Design Asia​ that counterfeit beauty products could be easily found at popular shopping hubs around the country and online as well.

 “Some retailers even flaunt phony goods on their Facebook pages. It’s not uncommon to find bogus beauty products being sold online by third-party dealers,” ​Dizon added.

Stricter laws and control

Unfortunately, current laws and regulations governing the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of personal care and cosmetic products are insufficient to stop the spread of counterfeit cosmetic goods. 

Dizon believes the authorities should treat the issue with fake cosmetics as seriously as the problem with counterfeit drugs and consider crafting a similar law to the one it imposed to curb the spread of bogus drugs.

“The government has to set tougher sanctions and punishments to discourage those involved in this unlawful trade. There may be a need for Congress to enact a Special Law on Counterfeit Cosmetics imposing heavy fines and penalties that will make it unprofitable for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to engage in such business,”​ said Dizon.

In addition, as most of the fake cosmetics are imported from overseas, reinforced border controls can prevent their entry into the market while identifying importers of such products so they can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Currently, there are two ordinances being considered in Baguio and Quezon. While the first is in its first reading, the latter has already been approved by the city’s Committee on Health and Sanitation and Committee on Trade, Commerce and Industry.

While Dizon believes these local ordinances are crucial in raising awareness for the issue and promoting measures that can protect the public against counterfeits, he admits that they are not cure-alls to the country’s complex problem with the fake makeup trade.

“A more comprehensive legislation that is national in scope with a well-supported machinery for enforcement and one that provides for hefty fines and penalties for violations is absolutely necessary to deal with such a complex problem.”

Market surveillance

Even with laws in place and borders secured, Dizon stresses that the authorities should continue to survey the market by conducting “non-stop law enforcement activities” such as on-the-spot confiscation of contraband cosmetics and preventive closure of dubious businesses to rid the market of counterfeit cosmetics.

“The Food and Drug Administration’s partnership with the Philippine National Police to fight fake food, medicine and cosmetic products should be strengthened, and similar partnerships with other national and local government agencies, industry associations and civil society groups should be forged as well,” ​he said.

In order to identify the source of these fake products, Dizon strongly believes authorities should consider post-marketing surveillance (PMS) in order to hold those responsible for placing fake products on the market accountable.

“For a more effective PMS, we believe the Food and Drug Administration should consider setting up satellite offices in popular shopping hubs staffed by an adequate number of regulatory officers.”

He added: “We hope brand owners will also take strong action against counterfeiters not only to protect their brand names, but to protect consumer health and the environment from adulterated and contaminated products.”

Importance of consumer education

Another prevailing issue with fake cosmetics is that there is a huge demand for them by consumers who are ill uninformed about the health and environmental impacts of using toxic makeup and their rights to be protected against such hazards.

The allure of a bargain can be too tempting, causing some to turn a blind eye to quality once they see the rock-bottom prices.

Dizon shared that the EcoWaste Coalition recently acquired a box containing 24 fake MAC lipsticks from off the busy streets of Manila, which amounted to only $6.50, less than 30 cents apiece.

Alarmingly, the non-profit group found up to 38,100ppm of lead in each tube, which as indicated on the label, supposedly made in the US.

As fake cosmetic products continue to evade laws and regulation, education then, becomes a powerful tool to extinguish the illegal trade from the inside.

“There is a need for a more effective public information that will educate consumers about the dangers of toxic cosmetics and their rights that are guaranteed under the Consumer Act of the Philippines and related laws. We need a focused consumer education, targeting women and girls, on unsafe cosmetics,” ​said Dizon.

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